A former United States Catholic cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, has been charged with the sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy, a crime that reportedly occurred in 1974.

The suspect, 91-year-old McCarrick, was once one of the most powerful leaders in the U.S. Catholic Church. Authorities charged the religious leader with three counts of indecent assault and battery in a criminal complaint issued in the District Court in Dedham, Massachusetts on Wednesday. McCarrick is the first current or former U.S. cardinal to face sex crimes.

Catholic Cardinal's Sexual Assault Crimes

Barry Coburn, a lawyer for McCarrick, released a statement that said his client's team will look forward to addressing the case in the courtroom. Statute of limitations for sex crimes under Massachusetts law dictates that the case is suspended if the alleged abuser leaves the state after the crime if he is not a Massachusetts resident. Mitchell Garabedian, the lawyer for the alleged victim, who was kept anonymous as his name was redacted from court documents, said.

Prosecutors claim that at the time of the crime, McCarrick, who was friends with the family of the victim, called the young boy out of his sister's wedding reception at Wellesley College. The complaint alleged that the cardinal told the boy his father wanted him to go with the religious leader. The accusations claim that the cardinal told the victim he was being mischievous at home and not attending church, the Wall Street Journal reported.

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The complaint said that McCarrick later proceeded to fondle the 16-year-old boy's genitals while repeatedly saying prayers. The victim said the cardinal abused him for several years even when he became an adult in multiple regions, including New Jersey, New York, California, and Massachusetts.

The U.S. cardinal was defrocked in 2019 after an investigation of the decades of sexual abuse allegations released results. The incident marked the moment when McCarrick became the most senior Catholic figure to be removed from priesthood in recent times, BBC reported.

A 450-page report from the Vatican contained testimonies and dozens of letters and transcripts from Vatican and U.S. church archives. The document said that the late Pope John Paul II was informed of McCarrick's crimes but decided to believe American bishops who opted to hide the suspect's abuses.

Defrocked from Priesthood

In 2019, Pope Francis expelled Theodore E. McCarrick; it was the first time a cardinal was defrocked for sexual abuse in the history of the Vatican. Many saw the decision as a critical moment in how the Vatican handled the nearly two-decade history of abuse.

A statement at the time said that McCarrick was dismissed after a trial where he was found guilty of several crimes, including soliciting sex during confession and "sins" with minors and with adults. The complaint added that the cardinal committed crimes "with the aggravating factor of the abuse of power."

There have been hundreds of priests who have been defrocked for the sexual abuse of minors worldwide. However, there have been very few of the religious group's leaders that were given disciplinary actions. Kurt Martens, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America, said the decision to defrock McCarrick was "almost revolutionary," the New York Times reported.

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